Dr Jason Wouhra OBE, Chair of the newly launched West Midlands India Partnership, highlights India’s growing importance for the UK, and how the West Midlands is encouraging closer collaboration between the two destinations.
A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the UK’s pending exit from the European Union (EU), has led
countries all over the world to review existing trade and co-operation agreements.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the benefits of international co-operation in the fight against coronavirus, either through sharing medical knowledge, or exchanging vital PPE supplies.
These uncertain times have shown the value of overseas partnerships, and there is no doubt this will increase as the global task of economic recovery becomes starker. The mantra that “there is strength in unity” has never rang truer, and our new West Midlands India Partnership embodies this feeling.
A Symbiotic Bond
The relationship between the UK and India holds significant potential for the future.
Both countries are united by a shared history, rooted in the collective values of their people and places.
Beyond this cultural affinity, India and the UK have also been close allies in business.
India is a prominent economic supporter of the UK, becoming the country’s second-leading source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2019. Meanwhile, trade values between the two countries increased by almost 10% to £24bn.
Indian diaspora-run businesses are also significant for the national economy – my own legacy in business is living proof of this energy and entrepreneurship.
In 1972 my family founded East End Foods in the West Midlands, in response to growing demand from Asian migrants for authentic ingredients from the continent.
Today, East End Foods is one of the foremost Asian food producers in the UK, supplying to many countries, including back to India. This symbiosis is what makes the India-UK relationship special.
The business was sold to private equity in 2019, but I have since continued its journey in our family by re-purchasing the wholesale division under my new company, Lioncroft Wholesale Ltd.
Since 2000, the UK has invested $27.64bn in India, and the number of UK businesses in the country has more than doubled in this time.
As the fifth largest economy in the world, India is an exciting destination to explore new avenues for economic growth, especially as the UK faces the prospects of its EU exit.
Encouragingly, it isn’t just the UK that is seeking this closer relationship. The two new High Commissioners of both territories have been vocal about the mutual benefits that stronger ties would bring.
This was endorsed further through a successful dialogue at the recent UK-India Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) – held 24th July 2020 – where trade ministers on both sides agreed to a clearer roadmap for deeper trade relations, which could lead to a future Free Trade Agreement.
Drawing on its established heritage with India, the West Midlands is leading closer collaboration through the new West Midlands India Partnership (WMIP).
The region has a 200,000-strong Indian diaspora, who continue to accelerate business and help shape the economic, social, academic and cultural life locally.
Many of the West Midlands’ greatest assets draw on these cultural influences, such as Birmingham’s Diwali on the Square, which over 20,000 people attended last year.
Additionally, our region is an epicentre for UK-Indian trade flows. India is the number one source for FDI employment in the West Midlands and a leading source for new investment projects.
There is also synergy in sector expertise, as the strengths outlined in the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy align with India’s excellence in the automotive, technology, life sciences and healthcare industries.
Complementing these business links are connections in the tourism and education sectors.
Indian tourism to our region has grown by 16% over the last five years, while our universities have seen a 33% increase in their Indian student intake over the same period.
Our aim for WMIP is to amplify our union with India while championing the UK’s desire to join forces.
As the UK advances this next critical chapter in its global trade story, our region’s closeness with India makes us best-placed to lead efforts to enhance this existing relationship.
Our unique position in this is bolstered by our upcoming role as host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
As a region, we will be maximising the trade, tourism and investment potential of this major global event to foster greater economic partnerships with key Commonwealth markets.
Once again, we will have the advantage to build the sought after UK-Indian living bridge.
Making A Shared Recovery
The current global economic recovery agenda emphasises the strategic value of nations working together.
WMIP is a robust and collaborative vehicle for facilitating these conversations, especially as our region looks to bounce back from the pandemic.
A key priority for recovery is to take the West Midlands out to the world and bring the world into the West Midlands, because we recognise the bilateral benefits of international collaboration.
WMIP will help to achieve this goal, with a comprehensive set of objectives focused on driving trade and investment, boosting tourism, creating educational alliances, civic partnerships and energising cultural engagement for mutual prosperity.
Now is an exciting moment in the West Midlands and India’s joint history, and we are ready to explore the exclusive opportunities we can unlock, together.